FAMILIES looking forward to day trips and short break holidays were left disappointed by the woman running an online events and bus tour company.

Single mother Katherine Clark began running the excursions by block booking tickets and transport to enable similar families on generally low incomes to have the opportunity to attend events and visitor attractions, including Disneyland in Paris, that they may not otherwise have been able to afford.

But, Durham Crown Court heard after initial success, the business, Daytrippers, grew beyond her capabilities and a shortfall emerged in funds to pay for some trips.

Ian Mullarkey, prosecuting, said she began “robbing Peter to pay Paul” to enable the trips to go ahead, even if buses were under-booked.

She fobbed off concerned families and gave false assurances when events loomed and tickets had not surfaced, even forging a receipt from a travel company purporting a payment had been made.

But suspicious families made their own inquiries and discovered money was still outstanding and their trips would not be taking place.

When refunds failed to be paid complaints were made and she was arrested on March 31, 2016, when documentation was recovered from her home showing she was in financial difficulties.

The court heard of the disappointment and sense of betrayal of affected customers, some friends of Clark whose children attended the same play group as her own young sons.

In all 35 families lost money plus two small family-run bus companies in County Durham, while payment also failed to be made for a party who visited the Adventure Valley attraction near Durham, which lost out by £275 as a result.

Clark, 42, of Saltwell Street, Gateshead, made previous denials, but last month admitted a single “roll-up” count of fraud by false representation covering all the complainants, over a period between August 2015 and March 31, 2016, involving an overall sum of £12,022.

Joe Hedworth, mitigating, said she set up the business with the best of intentions, initially with some success, but soon found herself unable to cope and out of her depth.

She resorted to using money taken for future trips to pay for under-booked excursions and it eventually caught up with her.

But he said there was no lavish living and she holds down two jobs to try to meet family bills and other outgoings.

The court was told inquiries revealed no identifiable assets or savings to allow for a compensation payment.

Judge Jonathan Carroll said the harm and impact on the affected families and business outweighed the total sum outstanding.

He said the, “anguish, distress and suffering rings out,” hearing and reading the impact statements of those who lost out at the hands of Clark.

Judge Carroll said he was “painfully aware” of the difficulties and impact her absence would cause her young sons, but he said the harm she caused was too serious to avoid an immediate prison sentence.

Imposing a 29-month prison sentence, Judge Carroll said, given her means, it was unrealistic to make a compensation order.